Long road for MLK congressional medal

Long road for MLK congressional medal
© Getty Images

Congress on Tuesday will honor Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King with the Congressional Gold Medal, marking the end of a decade-long process to bestow Congress's highest civilian honor on the nation's most prominent civil rights hero.

ADVERTISEMENT
The ceremony, also marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act, will feature speeches from Congress's top four leaders – Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems face identity crisis Heller under siege, even before healthcare Charles Koch thanks Harry Reid for helping his book sales MORE (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellPoll: Majority oppose Senate health care plan GOP infighting erupts over healthcare bill Budowsky: Rising up vs. TrumpCare MORE (R-Ky), House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerChaffetz calls for ,500 legislator housing stipend GOP super-PAC promises big spending in 2018 Ryan reminds lawmakers to be on time for votes MORE (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). 

Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.), another civil rights icon, and Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeDems announce 'unity commission' members If Democrats want to take back the White House start now A guide to the committees: House MORE (D-Ohio), head of the Congressional Black Caucus, will also participate.

It's been a long time coming.

In 2004, Congress passed – and President George W. Bush signed – legislation presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to the Kings, "as the first family of the civil rights movement." The honor was posthumous for Martin Luther King, Jr. who was assassinated in 1968; Coretta Scott King was expected to accept the award on the couple's behalf, but grew ill before the ceremony could take place. She passed away in early 2006.

An updated bill, sponsored by Lewis, was passed unanimously by both chambers of Congress earlier this year. President Obama signed it into law this month.

Lewis's office cited no specific reason for the long delay in presenting the award to the Kings, but suggested those championing the award simply wanted to put some distance between Coretta Scott's death and the ceremony.

"It would have taken on a sadness that I think was not part of the original motivation," said Lewis spokeswoman Brenda Jones. 

Tuesday's ceremony will take place in the Capitol rotunda. After the ceremony, the medals will be given to the Smithsonian Institution.